Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Susan Graham
Executive Director, Project RACE, Inc.

Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

Hearing on Multiracial Identification
25 July 1997

 


Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to be with you again today representing the national membership of Project RACE. I testified before this subcommittee on May 22 about the plight of multiracial children in Ameria who are without a racial classification. My son, Ryan, also testified. He told you that he wants a classification that describes exactly who he is – multiracial.

I have been asked to come back today to address the Interagency recommendation to the Office of Management and Budget. The national membership of Project RACE expressed feelings of elation at the "mark one or more" part of the recommendation. For the first time in the history of this country our multiracial children will not have to choose just one race. It is progress. But after the elation came the sad truth.

Under the current recommendation, my children and millions of children like them merely become "check all that apply" kids or "check more than one box" children or "more than one race" persons. They will be known as "multiple check offs" or "half and halfers." Or as John Hope Franklin, Chairman of President Clinton's Race Relations Commission referred to them, "half-white Negroes" and half-black whites." They are none of the above – they are multiracial children. The message should be very clear: Multiracial children exist and the Federal government recognizes them.

You must understand that the proposal in effect says multiracial persons are only part of other communities. They are not whole. When I was in school one-half plus one-half equalled a whole. I think it still does – unless you are multiracial.

Let's be very clear: The compromise for "check one or more" without a multiracial identifier was not a compromise wth the multiracial community. It was a compromise with the opponents of a multiacial category. Malcom X said, "You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress."

Cornel West, Harvard professor and author of Race Matters says, "When we talk about identity, it's really important to define it. Identity has to do with protection, association, and recognition. People identify themselves in certain ways in order to be associated with people who ascribe value to them, who take them seriously, who respect them and for purposes of recognition, to be acknowledged, to feel as if one actually belongs to a group, a clan, a tribe, a community." Please take my children's multiracial identity seriously. Show respect for them and the fact that they DO belong to a community. It is important and it is very, very real. Again, the message should be very clear: Multiracial children exist and the Federal government recognizes them.

OBJECTIONS TO THE WORD "MULTIRACIAL"

Representatives of OMB stated in a media briefing held on July 8, 1997 in Washington, "There should not be [a] separate racial category (a check box) called "multiracial." (this stand alone category provided no useful information and the research showed that there is no general understanding of what the term means. Further, having a separate multiracial category would, in effect, create another population group, and no doubt add to racial tension and further fragementatino of our population.)"

The statement that a multiracial classification would "no doubt add to racial tension and further fragmentation of our population" is racist, untrue and inflammatory. In the seven states which currently have a multiracial category there has been no racial tension or fragementation of the population as a result of the multiracial classification! In fact, people of all races have been glad to have the multiracial category. I have heard of no race riots, hate crimes, protests, or the slightest bit of tension in those seven states because of the multiracial classification. OMB is perpetuating the "parade of horribles" from the same racist circus which the minority communities began.

The Interagency Committee obviously recognizes the need for appropriate racial labels. In Section 5.3.4.1. of the Federal Register notice, titled "Should the term 'Black' or 'African American' be used?" it is stated that "Smith (1992) notes that the terms can be important because they are used by the particular group's members to indicate achievement of standing in the greater community." They therefore recommended adding "African-American" to the "Black" category, changing "Hawaiian" to "Native Hawaiian," and changing "Alaskan Native" to "Alaska Native." Terms such as "Haitian" or "Negro" can be used in addition to "Black" or "African-American." Terms such as "Latino" or "Spanish Origin" can be used in addition to "Hispanic." Why can't multiracial be used in addition to "check more than one"? Why is it unimportant to be multiracial, but important to be African-American or Latino?

Why does OMB object to the word "multiracial"? First, because they do not want to define the word. In fact, they don't have to define it at all. OMB Directive 15 should state:

    A multiracial person may have origins in two or more of the listed groups.

OMB Directive 15 could state "Multiracial persons can, but are not required to, report more than one race" instead of "persons of mixed racial origin can, but are not required to, report more than one race." Second, some of the leadership of the other minority communities do not like the term multiracial. Their irrational fear of loss of numbers by using the multiracial category was addressed during the last hearing. It is simply ridiculous that multiracial children should have to have the sanction and approval of other minority groups in order to have their own identity.

THE BIG QUESTION

Equally disturbing is the lack of information on how persons who check more than one box will be counted. The recommendation speaks of "tabulation" and "algorithms." They say they won't be able to figure it out until January 1, 1999! The recommendation states, "Data producers are encouraged to provide greater detail about the distribution of multiple responses." Encouraged? Not mandated?

There are ten additional combinations under the "check one or more" scheme:

    6 – persons who check 2 boxes
    3 – persons who check 3 boxes
    1 – persons who check 4 boxes
    10 – total

That's it. Ten combinations. The only accurate and complete way for the government to report the racial breakdowns is to reprot on the additional ten categories under the major heading of multiracial. It should be mandatory to report this way. Not only is it the most accurate way to count, but it gives us the information absolutely necessary for medical purposes.

To allow people to check more than one box and then revert to some kind of scheme to re-aggregate them into one racial category is discriminatory. Yes, it may uphold the one-drop rule and satisfy the minority communities, but do we want that or do we want accuracy? It doesn't take task forces and 50 government statisticians running around to find out how othr countries do this to see how it can be done most accurately. It certainly shouldn't take two years and it should have been decided in the four years of OMB investigation. Thus, we are asked to comment on a recommendation which has not answered a very important part of the outcome.

I listened to comments of Representative Tom Sawyer (D-Ohio) the other day about sampling on the Census. He repeatedly said, "The goal is accuracy." If the goal is accuracy for the argument of sampling, then the goal should be accuracy in counting those who do fill out their Census forms. Can we afford to have two different standards when it comes to the accurate portrayal of the make-up of race in America?

The recommendation format for Directive 15 also states when the conmbined racial and ethnic format is used, "When data are reported, a minimum of two additional categories designated "Hispanic and one or more races" and "More than one race", must be included if the criteria for data quality and confidentiality are met and both race and ethnicity and multiple races wee collected." Can someone tell me what the "criteria for data quality and confidentiality" means? OMB can't seem to tell me, yet we are being asked our response to this.

Further, it must be made very clear that respondents to race can report more than one race. It is not enough to have it hidden within OMB Stastistical Directive 15 – it must be stated clearly on forms. The Project RACE recommendation of "If you consider yourself to be biracial or multiracial check as many as apply" is far more preferable to ambiguous OMB language. We must have clarity if accuracy is our goal.

WHO IS CONFUSED?

President Clinton said last week that his high-profile panel on race would focus on "multiracialism," yet his administration is afraid to define "multiracial."

One of the reasons given by the Interagency Committee under "Findings not favoring adoption of a method for reporting more than one race" are that there are no Federal legislative requirements for information about the multiracial population." There are no Federal legislative requirements for an "African-American" identifier either. This submcommittee should recommend passage of H.R. 830 so that no one is confused.

The Committee goes on to say, "Most Americans are probably of mixed ancestry, depending on how ancestry is defined, and could confuse ancestry or ethnicity with race." It seems to me that they are making a case for doing away with the ancestry and ethnicity questions, and removing the Hispanic identifier as well.

The recommendation is for implementation of a "mark one or more" scheme by the year 2003. Is this so confusing that it will take six years to implement? My son, who first testified on this issue when he was 8-years-old will be 18-years-old in the year 2003. He will be old enough to vote, and still not have a multiracial classification. I wonder who he will vote for.

The recommendation of this subcommittee should be clear: Multiracial children exist and the Federal government recognizes them.

When I told my son Ryan about the Interagency recommendation he looked at me and said, "Mom, what's the Federal government going to call me next – gray? Why can't they let me be multiracial?" Perhaps you can answer that question for him better than I.



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